Photo: Pablo Rogat/Shutterstock

5 Uncomfortable Truths About Living in Santiago

by Meaghan Beatley Mar 9, 2015

1. Anti-abortion laws are the strictest in Latin America.

A 13-year-old child — pregnant after having been raped by a family member — recently caused a media storm when she was denied an abortion even though the fetus was found to be non-viable. Chile is one of five countries in Latin America with a total ban on abortion — the others being Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic.

Though some parliamentarians have tentatively pushed for reform — a bill proposal would allow the procedure for cases in which the mother’s life was endangered, rape, or non-viability of the fetus — the issue has been repeatedly tabled.

Those with the financial means, of course, often manage to find ways around these draconian laws. The vast majority of Chilean women and girls, however, are left with no options.

2. Chile has the highest rate of domestic violence in the region.

According to the Organization Against Street Harassment, almost 40 percent of Chilean women are harassed in public on a daily basis.

More disturbing is that these roadside “disturbances” reflect a culture that allows women to not only be objectified, but regarded as easily discarded. A recent United Nations report listed Chile as the country with the highest rate of domestic violence in the region — with 760 incidents per 100,000 people — and the country with the third-highest rate of rape, surpassed only by Peru and Bolivia. Members of Chile’s Socialist Party launched a social media campaign last August to protest the 27th femicide that year — a phenomenon distressingly called a “crime of passion.”

Of course, as a Santiago resident, you’ll likely only ever have to deal with non-violent street harassment; however, it’s important to be mindful that such objectification directly feeds into a system that actually endangers women, girls, and anyone deemed “effeminate.”

3. Social class distinctions are some of the highest in South America.

According to a 2014 Global Wealth Report — which categorized Chile as having “high inequality” bordering on “very high inequality” — Chile’s richest 10 percent — cuicos in local parlance — are in possession of nearly 70 percent of the country’s wealth. Due to their access to elite universities and professions, cuicos, often identified by their more European features, have long dominated politics and business.

This disparity is apparent in everyday interactions among Chileans. A student of mine broke down Chilean society using the building in which he worked as an example: the lawyers — cuicos – worked on one floor; the engineers — the middle class — on another; construction/maintenance crews — the working/lower classes — hardly even made it onto the schema. Trans-floor exchanges were extremely limited, if not entirely non-existent, he explained. “We wouldn’t have anything to talk about,” he claimed.

In a more aggressive manifestation of these social divides, celebrated rapper Ana Tijoux was heckled at last year’s Lollapalooza for having a “cara de nana” — “maid face” — presumably because of her darker, “indigenous” features.

4. There’s a lack of investment in the arts.

Chilean culture is undeniably rich, having boasted such musical talent as Victor Jara and Violeta Parra, literary giants such as Pablo Neruda and Roberto Bolaño, and untold others. Unfortunately, funding for the arts today is so limited in the capital that easy access to that culture is difficult to find, at best.

Chronic undervaluation of the arts has led to rampant unemployment in that sphere, which is a whole percentage point higher than the national average, according to a recent study conducted by the Observatory of Culture Politics. The study also finds that only a third of culture workers manage to obtain contracted labor, and a third of all Chilean artists do not expect to earn a dime at the end of each month. Discouraged from their artistic pursuits, many flee the country in search of greener cultural pastures in nearby Argentina.

How is this reflected in Santiago? Bellas Artes, the capital’s fine arts museum, leaves much to be desired. The film industry, while on the rise as of late, still has far to go. Enjoying Santiago’s local “culture” — while certainly not impossible — is challenging, as most artists are forced to practice their art via more underground channels.

5. Pollution levels far surpass admissible limits.

High up in the Andes and embedded within that range, Santiago is a pollution cesspool. The surrounding mountains prevent the heavy smog that hangs over the city from circulating away and out of it, making Santiago one of the most polluted cities in South America.

Contamination levels were so bad this past June that Santiaguinos were requested not to barbecue on days that Chile played during the World Cup — an otherwise time-honored tradition.

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